Jennifer Furner ACF Abstract FY12
Split Identities: Lacan's Mirror Stage in Shirley Jackson's "The Tooth"
The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900
During the Cold War era, successful white educated young couples sought security and comfort by leaving the cities and settling in the suburbs. As Elaine Tyler May wrote in Homeward Bound, “Suburbia would serve as a bulwark against communism and class conflict.” This great migration to the suburbs signified the importance placed on community, specifically, the family unit. The housewives of these fearful and unstable times were not only held accountable for the organization of the home, but for
the happiness and health of all family members. In other words, they were married to their homes. Housewives’ most important responsibility was tending to others’ needs ahead of their own to the point where caring for one’s family became one’s whole identity.
The rules of suburbia, however, are not followed within the city limits. In the city, time rushes faster and one’s only responsibility is to oneself. Shirley Jackson uses her short story “The Tooth” to portray the city as a place devoid of all the common rules by which housewives live their lives. Without their everyday responsibilities, women, while in the city and surrounded by strangers, lose all sense of purpose. Jackson’s protagonist takes this opportunity to shed her housewife identity freely and discover her individuality outside of society’s demands.
Using Jacques Lacan’s Mirror Stage to examine Jackson’s short story, this paper will
demonstrate how Cold War-era women were identified only by their success at keeping up a home and how, once the home is separated from them, they attempt to discover who they are as an individual separate from the expectations society has placed on them.
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